Nigeria Frees Journalist p.37

By: Kelvin Childs Move follows protests by U.S. journalism groups

Nigeria's new leader released journalist and publisher Christine Anyanwu and eight other political prisoners June 15.
Anyanwu, imprisoned since May 1995, is founder and publisher of Sunday Magazine. She was convicted of treason and imprisoned in solitary confinement for her coverage of the late Gen. Sani Abacha's regime. Abacha died June 8. Maj. Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, who succeeded him as head of the ruling military junta, ordered the releases.
U.S. State Department spokesman Louis Seges-vary said of Anyanwu's release, "We welcome that, and we applaud the new regime for doing that. We just hope they will release the other prisoners."
Among those released was Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria's head of state from 1976-1979. Anyanwu was the only journalist in the group.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has pushed for Anyanwu's release since she was incarcerated, and a year ago launched a campaign to free her. She was released four days after the president of the National Press Club delivered a protest letter to the Nigerian embassy in Washington, and a day after President Clinton called Abubakar to push for democracy. CPJ and the National Press Club continue to seek the release of 16 other journalists held in Nigerian jails.
"We are relieved that Christine Anyanwu will finally receive the medical attention she so urgently needs, but we are equally concerned about the health of the three other journalists who were imprisoned at the same time on the same charges ? Kunle Ajibade, Ben Charles Obi, and George Mbah," said CPJ executive director William A. Orme Jr.
Anyanwu has complained of a loss of eyesight, for reasons that have not been diagnosed, said Kakuna Kerina, CPJ's Africa coordinator. "She suffered quite a bit of deterioration because of the lack of medical attention."
Kerina said the other three are in "a very, very severe medical state" ? one with renal problems, another with an untreated head injury from a vehicle accident three years ago. Kerina said Anyanwu is visiting with family in Lagos.
Douglas Harbrecht, president of the National Press Club, said the group will offer $2,500 for her to return to the United States and will host an event in her honor. "We're going to celebrate her release big time, when she comes," Harbrecht said. Kerina and Harbrecht said arrangements are being made to get Anyanwu medical care.
Harbrecht and Amy Fickling, chair of the NPC's Freedom of the Press Committee, drafted a letter calling for Anyanwu's freedom. CPJ awarded Anyanwu its International Press Freedom Award in 1997. She also was awarded the UNESCO/ Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize this year.
Nigeria's government under Abacha had become notorious for its brutal oppression of citizens and its hostility to the news media. The regime suspended the constitution and, according to CPJ, has seized newspapers, passed restrictive press laws, imprisoned several journalists on trumped-up charges and detained others without due process.

?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http:www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher June 27, 1998) [Caption]


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